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GUEST OPINION

What's the real motivation for the Plaza project?

 Posted: 2:00 AM August 20, 2012

I asked myself, how does the city make a transition from "refreshed" and "touch-up" to complete redesign?

It wasn't until I thought back about the recent fire on the Plaza and the businesses that suffered as a result of that fire. Most likely, the publicity hurt local tourism a bit, especially after the Oak Knoll fire (both fires "allegedly" caused by homeless men). Then, I later read that the fountain in front of the Black Swan was going to be possibly turned into a planter and not repaired. I saw the seating bench on the sidewalk in front of the theater had been removed. I saw the water in the drinking fountain was shut off in that area.

It dawned on me that the City Council and the Chamber of Commerce may have a hidden agenda to eliminate the "homeless," the "transients," the "characters" and the "vagrants." The Plaza and the area in front of the Black Swan are two known areas where people congregate and loiter. Is this the real reason for the "redesign?"

I feel that what a lot of people are trying to avoid saying is that "they" (unsure who all "they" are) want to eliminate a certain "element" from the downtown area and they don't know how to go about it. An "exclusion zone" has been mentioned for "repeat offenders" (of which many are not homeless) with the idea of three strikes and get transported to the Jackson County Jail, but they'll only be cited and released and back out again because of overcrowding.

A quote from the Daily Tidings article July 18 says: "Lawn areas and worn benches where people currently like to lounge and relax would be removed. New benches potentially could be added, either built into the concrete walls or as stand-alone benches." That quote solidifies my thoughts that this whole thing isn't about making necessary repairs. It's about removing people (whether homeless or not) from that particular area, because loitering people, along with the trash cans and utility box, are "unsightly" and bad for tourism.

Then, I read the city of Ashland's "Request for Proposals — Landscape Design Services for the Plaza in Downtown Ashland." That document says: "The City of Ashland requests proposals for an Architectural Design or Landscape Design Firm to provide a plan for refreshing and improving the landscaping and furnishings in the Plaza in downtown Ashland, located at the confluence of North Main Street and East Main Street. The Plaza has historically served as the city's 'sitting room' and a gathering place for impromptu performances (busking), protest rallies and community events."

On the same document, under "The scope of services for the project includes," it says: "4. In developing the plan, the selected consultant will be expected to meet with key stakeholders to solicit their input before creating the final plan." The term "key stakeholders" made me question who exactly those people are. I know there were four public meetings on two separate days, and heard many in attendance were city staff and Chamber representatives. I witnessed how few people attended the City Council meeting that was held Aug. 17, and I viewed archived meetings, so I am left with the impression that the "key stakeholders" are the Chamber of Commerce, the City Council, and Plaza business owners who perhaps would like to create a design that appears to many to be cold, uninviting, and uncomfortable in the hope again of deterring or eliminating the loitering transient population. However, they fail to factor in the rest of the population who use it regularly.

The redesign does nothing to address nor deter the problems with the homeless or unruly characters on the Plaza. I interviewed several homeless people myself, and they said it will have no effect on them at all. Perhaps more of a police presence, community service officers, community involvement, volunteers, etc., would make a difference.

Additionally, the issue is already being addressed by Allan Sandler, who is trying to set up an LLC (Limited Liability Corporation) to create a "Neighborhood Guest House." It sounds as if solutions are being offered, but they are met with negative responses such as this one regarding the LLC from the mayor: "First of all, this is not a city program, and we are not endorsing this ... If they pull this off it will be an important contribution to our community." So, to reiterate, what I gathered from the mayor's statement was, Allan's idea is good, but not one supported by the city.

I felt a particularly appropriate quote belonged here, and it says: "True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice that produces beggars needs restructuring."

— Martin Luther King Jr., civil rights leader (1929-1968).

I found it on the Chamber of Commerce Web page.

Lisa Alexander-Stanley lives in White City.


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